In such dire times Charles Jones believes we should be doing all we can to cut water waste.
With that in mind, he is a strong advocate for decommissioning Lake Mokoan on the outskirts of Benalla.
The shallow lake – created in 1971 for irrigation water storage – is highly inefficient and loses about 50 billion litres of water annually through evaporation. This is the about equivalent to all the water used each year in greater Bendigo and Ballarat combined. That’s valuable water Charles Jones and many others believe we can’t afford to lose.
“Nobody gets the benefit of that water. Not irrigators, not towns and certainly not the environment. They all miss out. We simply can’t afford to allow that water to go to waste,” Mr Jones said.
“By decommissioning Lake Mokoan and returning the area to a natural wetland we can return about 44 billion litres of water to the Snowy and Murray Rivers which urgently need more water.”
Charles has been a community representative on the Lake Mokoan Future Land Use Steering Committee since 2004, representing the Benalla and District Environment Group.
The issue has been a controversial topic amid concerns the decommissioning would see local irrigators lose access to water, despite a State Government commitment to honour existing water rights.
Charles offers a unique and valuable perspective on the issue as a passionate environmentalist – he founded the local environment group – and as a former dairy farmer.
“Farming was some of the best years of my life and that background helps me communicate with others. Farmers are facing very tough conditions, but it will be worse in the future if we continue to ignore the health of our rivers.”
Charles lives on a 50 hectare property on the banks of Limar East Creek that he bought with a group of friends in the early 1980s.
Today the property boasts several homes, vegie patches and a myriad of native animals – but it was the creek and the lure of permanent water that drew them to the site.
“I can understand people’s sense of ownership over Lake Mokoan and their nervousness about change. Australians are drawn to water. The creeks, rivers and lakes play a vital role in our community,” he said.
“There is local talk about some sort of compromise plan for decommissioning Lake Mokoan that would see some steps towards the environment, but still keep water aside for irrigators.”
“I’m happy to consider any ideas, but my number one priority is cutting down the evaporation and returning those savings to the rivers for environmental flows. I’d like to see a greater equitable outcome for both the community and the environment.”
“It may require hard choices, but we need to look at the issue from a catchment-wide, state and national perspective and consider the long-term future of the whole environment. No-one wins if we keep losing water to evaporation. And no-one wins if we let our rivers die.”
Story by Tracey Cheeseman